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Purdue University Honors Sisters Who Persevered

Purdue University recently announced the renaming of two of its residence halls after two extraordinary alumni, Freida and Winifred Parker. In 1946, they were accepted to Purdue University, but were not allowed to live on campus. According to historian John Norberg, Purdue “had an unwritten policy that African Americans couldn’t live in the residence halls.” And it wasn’t just the university, either. Norberg said, “African American students couldn’t live in West Lafayette at all. It was a sundown city. African Americans had to be out by sundown."

This inhospitable setting made campus life difficult for the Parker sisters as they insisted on attaining a collegiate education. Norberg said, “They didn’t have a shower or a bathtub. They only had one desk for them to share … it was a long commute that involved buses and they had to leave early so they missed a lot of opportunities.”

And yet, despite such hardship, the Parker sisters did not give up. Norberg said, “(They) weren’t the first to be denied access to the residence halls. They were the first to stand up to the university and say, ‘No, you can’t do that.’”

Through a winning combination of dispassionate logic, strategic networking and unflagging endurance, the sisters engaged in a year-long campaign to reverse the unwritten policy. They wrote letters, they visited dignitaries, and they rallied support wherever they could get it.

Eventually they found support from Indiana governor Ralph Gates, whose pressure broke the stalemate. In 1947, Freida and Winifred Parker were among the first African American students to move onto campus. All of the students at Purdue today benefited from what Frieda and Winifred did in 1946.

Renee Thomas, of the Black Cultural Center at Purdue, hopes the gesture will help to send a positive message to students who might be struggling. “We hope that today’s students will use their story as inspiration.”

Possible Preaching Angle:

Trusting in God gives us the power to persevere under difficult circumstances. Even though we work inside institutions to change laws and practices, ultimately our hope is not in people or institutions or laws, but in God's eternal truth and power.

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